With close to 1 billion acres of protected lands and waters providing habitat for thousands of species and unrivaled outdoor recreational access for millions of Americans, Defenders of Wildlife is celebrating the remarkable legacy of the National Wildlife Refuge System today as we kick off National Wildlife Refuge Week, October 8-14.
“The National Wildlife Refuge System is the world’s largest system of lands and waters dedicated to the protection of wildlife. Nearly a third of all species protected under the Endangered Species Act rely on refuges, making them crucial tools in the fight against the biodiversity crisis,” said Desirée Sorenson-Groves, senior director of federal lands for Defenders of Wildlife.
The National Wildlife Refuge System is composed of nearly 600 refuges and five Marine National Monuments found in every state and territory. Ranging from the swamps of Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge in Georgia to the mountains of Lee Metcalf National Wildlife Refuge in Montana to the tundra of Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska, to the deepest parts of the ocean in the Marianas Trench National Wildlife Refuge in the Pacific Ocean, these important protected areas add more than $3.2 billion per year into regional economies and support more than 41,000 jobs. They also perform a host of ecosystem services, like providing clean air and water to the communities around them. There is a refuge located within an hour drive of nearly every major metropolitan area in the United States.
“Whether you want a peaceful outing in nature, an adventurous hike or bike, a wilderness experience where you may never see another human, or even the opportunity to spot one of our nation’s most imperiled species, the National Wildlife Refuge System can provide that,” said Sorenson-Groves. “We are incredibly fortunate to have such diverse beauty preserved for the appreciation of all Americans. Sadly, however, the System finds itself underfunded in Congress, despite its popularity and increased use.”
Due to chronic underfunding, the Refuge System has had to reduce its workforce capacity by over 800 positions since FY2011 — an enormous 25% loss. Roughly 40% of comprehensive conservation plans, which otherwise govern the management of individual refuges, are either out of date or nonexistent, undermining the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s ability to manage for future conditions. Meanwhile, Americans are increasingly finding refuges as places to recreate with visitation increasing by 34% since FY2010.
In celebrating this year’s National Wildlife Refuge Week, Defenders of Wildlife calls for increased funding to address these issues, as well as a renewed national focus on defending the system from a litany of threats including energy development, mining and roadbuilding, which stand to undermine the integrity of refuges across the country. We hope you take some time by yourself or with family and friends to visit a national wildlife refuge this week!